The Constitution guarantees due process and the right to a speedy trial. As part of that guarantee, the law establishes time limits for the prosecution of most criminal offenses called "statute of limitations". Simply put, if the charges are not filed within the time limit allowed by law, you cannot be prosecuted. Yet the "wheels of justice" sometimes move slowly- so what happens when no actual criminal charges have been filed against you by the time your court date arrives?
The answer is "NOTHING". Charges often filed after the Court date you were given when cited or arrested. Prosecutors like to review and file the cases by the Court date to avoid additional notification or arrest. However, the Court date is not the deadline to file the case, it is a convenient time administratively set up by the Court for the appearance.
Whether your case is rejected and never filed, or you're ultimately charged depends on a number of factors that that include the facts of the offense, evidence against you, when its reported or discovered and the statute of limitations for the criminal offense(s) at hand.
- Charges can often be filed later, even if they haven't been filed in time for your court date, as long as they are filed within the statute of limitations for the offense.
- You should be released if you're still in custody and no charges have been filed for three court (business) days following your arrest, but charges also could still be filed later within the statute of limitations.
Statute of Limitations for Misdemeanors and Felonies
The prosecutor must file charges for misdemeanors within one year of the incident.
The prosecutor must file charges for most felonies within three years. Exceptions include some serious felonies, like murder where there is no time limit. Many child- and/or sex-related crimes, among other serious offenses, fall outside the general three-year filing requirement and have special statute of limitation rules.
Why Haven't Charges Been Filed Yet?
There may be a number of reasons that cause a delay in filing. These include:
- The prosecutor and/or law enforcement may need additional investigation.
- The police reports were not forwarded yet to the District Attorney.
- Lab or forensic testing may still need to be completed, especially in DUI, Drug and sex cases.
- The prosecutor may not have enough evidence to prosecute or there are other problems with the case and the charges will not be filed.
If no charges are filed on your Court date after, you should go to the District Attorney's (D.A.'s) Office and you will get a letter that says "no charges" are filed at this time, but they could be filed in the future. If charges are filed in the future, the D.A. has the option of sending a Notify Letter informing you of the new Court date, or getting an arrest warrant depending on the case. The D.A. will never issue a letter saying no charges will ever be filed, they always leave open the possibility of filing in the event additional information becomes available. This "no file" letter should also be taken to your bail bondsman so they know the disposition of the case.